The Palomino Pony Runs Free (10 page)

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
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“Shove up a bit.” Emily squished herself on to the bench between Maya and the arm. “Oooh, it’s cold. I thought this was supposed to be the summer term? I wish I’d brought my gloves.”

Poppy nodded. “I know. I took Billy for a walk down by the canal yesterday after school and I nearly froze.”

“Is it looking OK?” Izzy asked anxiously. “I haven’t been down there for weeks.”

“There was a tiny bit of litter – it’s OK, Iz, I picked it up! – but no one had dumped anything. And the mural under the bridge still looks great, Poppy.”

The four girls had organised a clean-up weekend down by the canal, after Poppy and Izzy had taken Billy down there and he’d got caught up in an old bicycle that someone had thrown into the water. They’d even been on the radio, appealing for people
to come and help.

“How could you be cold when you were out with Billy?” Maya asked, nudging Poppy. “He goes so fast, you must have been running to catch up with him.”

“I know!” Poppy shivered. “So just think how cold I would have been on my own.”

Emily suddenly let out a massive sigh, and the others wriggled round to look at her in surprise.

“What’s the matter?” Maya asked, and Emily shrugged.

“Sorry. It was just hearing Poppy talk about Billy. You’re so lucky having him. He’s gorgeous.”

Poppy sniffed. “Some of the time he is.”

Izzy giggled. “What did he do?”

“Only ruined one of my sketchbooks,” Poppy said grumpily. “I still love him, but it was a close thing for five minutes there.”

“How? What happened?” Maya asked, trying not to grin. Billy was a very accident-prone bull terrier, and he always seemed to mix Poppy up in his mess too.

Poppy rolled her eyes. “I was sitting at the kitchen table, just doodling a bit, and I had a couple of biscuits…”

“I get the feeling I know where this is going.” Izzy 
wrinkled her nose.

“Exactly.” Poppy sighed. “Well, I wasn’t thinking – it was the drawing, it was really nice, and I sort of forgot, and I left the biscuits at the edge of the table. Billy sniffed them out – he’s got a nose like a bloodhound, for food anyway. We could use him to track biscuit thieves, no problem.”

“So he ate your biscuits,” Emily said, frowning. “I don’t see what that’s got to do with the sketchbook. Unless he thought that was a biscuit too.” Billy was well known for being a bit stupid. Poppy’s brothers called him the dumb blond.

eat the biscuits.” Poppy shook her head. “He tried to. But he missed when he jumped up, and he thumped his head on the underneath of the table.”

“Oh no! Was he all right?” Emily gasped.

Poppy smiled at her reassuringly. “He was fine. He’s got a skull made of wood, Dad says. He was just a bit confused about where his biscuits had gone. But he shook the table up – almost tipped it over. You know how strong he is. And the vase of flowers fell over, and spilled water all across my sketchbook. And me.”

“I wouldn’t mind. I’d still love a dog like Billy,” Emily
said, staring into the distance. She was dreaming about her ideal dog, the others could tell. “Or a cat. A big soft furry one, with a tail like a scarf… Or even a hamster. Well – maybe I wouldn’t like a hamster so much, you can’t really cuddle a hamster. But any sort of pet would be nice…”

“Jake and Alex have got a friend who wants to sell his pet tarantula,” Poppy said brightly.

Emily glared at her. “Any sort of pet
with fur
,” she added.

“Oh, Sam says it’s
furry. And affectionate,” Poppy promised her. “It likes to sit on your shoulder.”

Emily shuddered. “You know what I mean!”

“Your mum and dad won’t let you have a pet at all?” Maya asked sympathetically. She had a huge black cat called Henry, who liked to curl up next to her when she was doing her homework. He was Maya’s mum’s cat really, but she was off touring or filming so much of the time that he had adopted Maya instead.

“No.” Emily shook her head. “I think Dad would quite like to have a dog, but Mum says she would be the one who ended up having to look after it, while he was at work, and we were all at school. She reckons she’s got quite enough people to look after,
with me and Toby and James and Sukie. And when I tried to explain about it being different, and wanting something to curl up with, she said I was welcome to curl up with Sukie, especially when Sukie woke up at two o’clock in the morning.” She slumped down a little on the bench, sighing disgustedly. “And she says if I want to take something for a walk, that’s not a problem either, I can just put Sukie in the pushchair.”

“Isn’t it nice having a little sister?” Maya asked, frowning a little. She was an only child, and quite fancied having someone else around to play with. “You could dress her up. It would be fun…”

Emily stared at her. “You have no idea! Sukie won’t wear anything except her wellies. And I mean
her wellies. It’s a complete battle getting her to wear anything else. She’d rather live in a nappy, her wellies and maybe a woolly hat if she feels a bit cold. I’d love to see you trying to dress her up.” Emily snorted with laughter. “She’d probably bite you.”

“Oh…” Maya sounded rather downcast. It wasn’t what she’d imagined at all.

“I can sort of see your mum’s point, though,” Izzy said quietly. “There’s an awful lot of you in your house already. Have you got room for a dog?”

“A small one…” Emily held out her hands, just a
little way apart. “A nice little dog…”

Poppy nodded. “You’d just have to make sure it was really well trained. Not like Billy,” she added, before any of the others could say it for her. “Dad took him to lots of training classes, but he never really got the hang of it. You’d need a dog that was very small, and very sensible.” She frowned. “I don’t know what breed that would be.”

Emily shook her head. “Me neither.”

“Maybe your mum will let you have a dog when Sukie gets a bit bigger,” Maya said, trying to be comforting, but Emily smiled at her lopsidedly.

“I know what she’ll say then – that we’re all a bit bigger, and there’s even less room. I’ll just have to keep visiting Billy.”

“He can come and have a holiday with you if you like,” Poppy volunteered, a bit too eagerly.

Emily giggled. “I don’t think that would help convince Mum, would it?”

“Maybe not,” Poppy agreed. “Unless you managed to find a really nice small well-behaved dog, and sort of compared it to Billy to make it look even more perfect.”

“Yeah, that might work.” Emily sighed. “Except I’ll never get the chance to try it out.”

They were all silent for a moment, thinking.

“Isn’t there another way you could have a pet, without actually owning one?” Maya suggested slowly.

“Adopting a zoo animal, you mean?” Emily nodded. “I already have. I’ve got a snow leopard,” she said, rather sadly. “Gran gave me him for my birthday. It’s nice – I got a letter about him, and I’ve got a toy version of him on my bed. But it isn’t the same. I’ve only ever seen him once, and then he was up at the top of his – well, it wasn’t a cage. Sort of a big pen with trees and rocks. He wouldn’t come down.”

“I didn’t quite mean that,” Maya said. “It was what Poppy said about having Billy for a holiday. Couldn’t you be a petsitter? I don’t mean having the pets living at your house, but popping in to feed them and give them a cuddle while their owners are away. Or maybe you could take dogs for walks when their owners can’t manage it?”

Emily stared at her. “Do you think people would let me?” she asked excitedly. “I mean, I love dogs, and I’ve got loads of dog books, but I’ve never actually owned one.”

“I bet they would if they saw you with a dog,”
Poppy agreed. “You’re brilliant with Billy. Anybody could see that you’re a dog person.” She smirked. “And other pets too, of course. Maybe Sam would like you to pop in and cuddle his tarantula while he goes on holiday.” Then she dodged as Emily pretended to smack her.

“Seriously, I bet you could do that. You’d just need to find a way to let people know about you.” Maya frowned. “And I suppose you’d really only be able to help out people in Appleby, wouldn’t you? Unless your mum would let you go to any of the other villages on your bike.”

“I don’t think she would.” Emily frowned. “She gets panicky about us being out on the roads on our bikes. Which is totally fair when you think about Toby and James, but not for me. But there are lots of people with dogs and cats round our village. Somebody must need a dog-walker.”

“You know what else there is in Appleby?” Izzy put in, her pale-blue eyes round with excitement.

The others shook their heads, and Izzy beamed. “The shelter. You know,” she added as they looked at her blankly. “The animal shelter! Ummm, it’s called Appleby Animal Rescue, or something like that?”

“Oh! Yes, I forgot. But Mum isn’t going to let
us adopt a pet from there, Izzy, even though I’d love to,” Emily objected.

“I know, I don’t mean that,” said her friend. “Couldn’t you go and help out?”

Emily looked at her blankly for a moment, then she squeaked with excitement. “Why didn’t I ever think of that before? I know I’m always saying it, but you’re a genius, Izzy!” She jumped up off the bench and hugged Izzy so hard that she squeaked too, and her nose went bright pink, the way it always did when she was pleased.

Emily perched herself on the arm of the bench, frowning thoughtfully. “Today’s Thursday, and Toby’s got judo after school, so I can’t go tonight—”

“Your mum lets him do judo?” Poppy asked disbelievingly. “Like, so he’s being
how to fight people? Is that a good idea?”

Emily shrugged. “Apparently, it’s supposed to help you calm down – by kicking things, I guess. Who knows. Anyway, we’ll have to take him to the sports centre, so Mum’ll be trying to cook dinner and everything in a rush. She won’t be up for me disappearing off to the animal shelter. But I could definitely go tomorrow afternoon.” She bounced excitedly. “Oh, I really hope they do need
some help. Even if it’s just cleaning out guinea pig hutches or something.”

“Will your mum let you do it?” Maya asked suddenly. “I mean, if she’s not keen on dogs…”

Emily shook her head. “Oh no, that’s the stupid thing. Mum loves dogs. She had a gorgeous Labrador when she was my age. But she says she hasn’t got time to look after one properly now. I’m sure she’d be OK with me going to the shelter. Especially if it stops me moaning about having a dog of our own. Oh, I can’t wait to go!”

“Emily, it’s me! Maya. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. What did your mum say about helping out at the shelter?”

Maya knew right away how excited Emily was – her words were falling over each other, she was talking so quickly!

“She was fine – she said it was a great idea, and she knows how much I love dogs. Dad said it sounded brilliant, but I had to make sure I still had time for my homework if I go and help at the shelter, because I’ve already got dancing, but I told them it would be OK. Dancing’s only on Mondays, I could help any other night for a bit, or maybe at the weekend.”

“So you’re definitely going to go and ask tomorrow?” Maya asked.

“Yee-ees,” Emily agreed. “That’s the only problem. What do I say to them? And what if they say no, they
don’t want anybody?”

“Mmmm. I should think they’d need as much help as they can get,” Maya said thoughtfully. “They’d be more likely to hug you and hand you a bag of dog food. You’re not really nervous, are you?”

“A bit,” Emily admitted. “It’s just the thought of walking in and talking to someone I’ve never met before…”

for a moment. “Want me to come with you?” she suggested.

“Yes!” Emily yelped. “I mean, yes, please. Are you sure?”

“I’d like to. I’ve never been to an animal shelter,” said Maya.

“Actually, me neither,” Emily admitted. “I’m not sure what it’s going to be like.”

“Would your mum let you come back to my house tomorrow? You’re on the bus on Fridays, aren’t you? Then we could go to the shelter together. It’s really close to mine.”

“Hang on, I’ll check.”

Maya could hear discussion going on in the background, and what sounded like a full-on fight between Toby and James at the same time. She could see why Emily had said it would be too tricky to get
to the shelter tonight. She should have rung later on, she thought to herself crossly. But she’d been so keen to know what Emily’s mum and dad had said.

“Yes!” Emily said breathlessly into the phone.

“Sorry! I shouldn’t have rung now, your mum’s trying to do tea and everything.”

Emily giggled. “No, it’s fine. James squirted ketchup all over Toby while I was asking her, that’s all. She was dithering a bit because she wanted to take me to the shelter so they could see she was OK with the idea, but now she says she’ll write me a note, with her mobile number and everything. Then they can call her.”

“OK. I’ll check with Dad, but I know it’ll be fine. He’ll come with us, or maybe Anna will if he has to work.”

“Is your mum away, then?” Emily asked. She and Poppy and Izzy couldn’t help being a little bit curious about Maya’s mum, who was a singer called India Kell. She didn’t record as much any more, but she did a lot of TV work, and she was always flying off all over the place. (Which made Maya really cross. She was always trying to get her mum to use trains instead, but her mum said it wasn’t really practical to get a train to the US, and a boat would take weeks.
She and Maya had agreed that she’d do carbon-offsetting and pay for trees to be planted instead. Maya’s mum said this meant that somewhere there was a small forest that belonged to her, and she was planning to build a log cabin in it.)

“Mmmm, she’s gone to some awards thing. She’s presenting an award for Best New Act. I hadn’t heard of any of the people who were up for it, and Mum said she wasn’t sure she had either. But one of them had really nice hair, so she reckons he should win. Anyway, she won’t be back until Monday.”

“I know you don’t like it when she’s away, but you are lucky, you know…” Emily sighed. “Your dad’s there most of the time, and Anna’s the best cook. Do you think she’d make chocolate-chip cookies if we asked her really nicely?” Anna was Maya’s family’s housekeeper. She made gorgeous food, but she didn’t approve of Maya being a vegetarian. She cooked lovely veggie stuff for her, but she knew how hard it was for Maya to resist bacon sandwiches, so she was always cooking them for Maya’s dad, and wafting the delicious bacon smell all over the house.

“I bet she would. Especially if you ask her, Em. She likes you. She knows you help look after Toby and James and Sukie, and she says children should
help out. She thinks I ought to have a little sister or brother, and then I wouldn’t be spoilt rotten.”

“But you aren’t!” Emily told her in surprise. “That’s why none of us could really believe it when you said you were India Kell’s daughter. When you read about celeb kids, they’ve always got tiny sports cars, and pet zebras and things—”

Maya snorted with laughter.

“I’m serious! Or they’ve got half of Chelsea football team coming to help at their birthday party or something like that. You’re normal. Well. Almost normal, anyway,” Emily added sweetly. She was on the phone, so Maya couldn’t slap her. “You do have your own laptop – which I’d kill for, by the way – and a mobile, and your house is enormous, but otherwise, you’re not that different from me and Poppy and Izzy.”

“I love you too,” Maya said, still trying not to laugh. “Anyway. Tomorrow at mine, and I’ll make Dad come with us. He could do with a walk.”

“Do you think they’ll say yes?” Emily asked anxiously, for about the fifth time since they’d set off.

“Yes!” Maya rolled her eyes.

“I think they’d be really glad of the help, Emily,”
Maya’s dad put in. “The shelter’s pretty tiny, and I’m sure I remember seeing an article about it in the paper – it’s mostly run by one lady, and she’s really overworked.”

Appleby Animal Rescue was an old farmhouse, just outside Appleby village, where Emily and Maya both lived. It was a nice-looking house, not very big, but with a square yard in front of it, with stables and outhouses all round.

“Do you think all those building have got animals in them?” Emily asked, looking around in surprise. “I didn’t think it would be this big.”

“I suppose there isn’t another animal shelter anywhere close,” Maya said thoughtfully. “Any abandoned animals would have to come here.” She nudged Emily. “So, are we going in?”

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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